Southern plans to run the ball more frequently and more effectively this season than it did last season.
The Jaguars demonstrated why during a scrimmage Saturday morning in A.W. Mumford Stadium.
The depth shone through as Lenard Tillery, the incumbent starter, didn’t enter the scrimmage until late, and Tyre Bracken, a talented transfer who arrived just a week ago, was held out because of a minor injury.
So Malcolm Crockett, Jamarcus Jarvis and John West all were in the spotlight and they showed that Southern has at least a handful of starting-quality running backs. Herb Edwards, who has impressed during preseason camp, also rested a minor injury.
“I’m pleased with that whole room,” coach Dawson Odums said after the final workout of camp. “As talented as that room is, don’t go down. Whatever you do, don’t get on the injury list because that’s giving somebody else more reps.”
Bracken is expected back on the field when the Jaguars return to practice Tuesday and resume the battle for depth-chart positions heading into the season opener Aug. 30 at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“When we came into the locker room after the scrimmage,” Tillery said, “the defense was talking about how it didn’t matter who came in, they were going to run hard and you had to be on your toes.
“We’ve got multiple guys that can come in and hit you with the big gainer. Having fresh legs in the game is going to be a big thing for us this year.”
Crockett, a transfer from Pittsburgh, got the first opportunity with the first-team offense. West was next when he went in with the second team. Jarvis got a chance later with the first team and had the longest run of the day — 44 yards. He and Crockett lined up together briefly and Tillery finished up.
“We’ve got a good core group of running backs,” nose tackle Gabe Echols said. “Our offensive line is going a good job and we’re going to continue to work on pounding the ball and scoring touchdowns.”
West, a redshirt junior from Brother Martin, has not carried the football in a game for Southern, but it’s beginning to look like that will change this season.
“That’s been the surprise of camp,” Odums said. “I really think from a mental standpoint as far as execution he’s probably been the best in that room. He doesn’t have the flash of some of those other guys, but he’s tough. He lines up some at fullback for us. He’s a smart kid that’s really finding his way on to the field.”
Tillery said West “is definitely in the mix” and said he was the most productive back in the first scrimmage a week earlier.
“I don’t know the history of the running back position at Southern that well,” Odums said. “I know they’ve had some good ones, but I don’t know if they’ve ever had this many good ones.
“The stable is deep. We’ve got some guys that can carry the rock. It’s going to take a lot of pressure off our quarterback going forward.”
Odums said quarterback and running back are the only starting positions yet to be determined.
The quarterback rotation Saturday was consistent with what it has been most of camp. Deonte Shorts ran the first-team offense, Austin Howard and Jarrad Hayes split second-team reps and Francis Kanneh finished.
The depth at running back fits nicely with the inexperienced group of quarterbacks, who will be a bigger part of the running game than Dray Joseph was a year ago, and a proven offensive line. Shorts, who directed the first-team offense, had both of the scrimmage’s rushing touchdowns.
Odums said he and the offensive staff will review the scrimmage film Sunday and start to map out a quarterback plan for the opener. It won’t necessarily be etched in stone and more than one quarterback could play in the opener.
“It’s going to come down to who we’re most comfortable with making the right decisions,” Odums said.
Whoever it is will have plenty of running backs to count on.
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